Narcissists need to have a scapegoat in their life. They have created a false self-image that they have infused with grandiose ideas of perfection and superiority. They need other people to constantly supply them with adulation, known as narcissistic supply. But what happens when they do something wrong?
Narcissists are only human, so it’s only natural that they are going to make a mistake every now and again, no matter how careful they may be. So what happens? That’s where the scapegoat comes in handy. They can’t admit they are flawed, or they will jeopardize their entire false identity. They need someone to blame, but how do they choose that person?
The narcissist chooses a scapegoat because they trigger their own fears of insecurity and jealousy by somehow threatening to expose the narcissist’s true self. This is because they call out the narcissist’s abuse or threaten their image. That causes the narcissist to attack them relentlessly.
My narcissistic mother was jealous of me because she viewed me as a younger version of herself. This is not at all uncommon between narcissistic mothers and their daughters. One of the most difficult things for a narcissist, particularly a woman, is to grow old.
Watching her daughter mature while she fades triggers a narcissistic mother, and although it’s not her daughter’s fault, she will bear the brunt of her mother’s jealousy and rage as a result. Understanding the root of a narcissist’s jealousy can help to gain more insight into the reasons behind their behavior.
Why is a Narcissist Jealous of a Scapegoat?
The scapegoat triggers the narcissist’s feeling of insecurity. Basically, the narcissist is jealous because they fear the scapegoat. They either fear that they will expose the flawed true self they’ve hidden deep within their psyche, or they fear the truths the scapegoat tells will make them look bad.
The narcissist may be jealous of the scapegoat’s youth, talent, beauty, or intelligence. The narcissist has touted their own superiority, and when a younger and/or better version threatens that image, their jealousy can be the motivation behind all kinds of abusive behavior.
What’s more, a scapegoat is usually a truth-teller. They point out abuse as it happens, or they point out the mistakes a narcissist has made. In either case, they directly threaten the narcissist’s image of superiority.
That triggers narcissistic rage in the toxic abuser, and it can sometimes become physically dangerous. The classic tale of Snow White is an illustration of narcissistic jealousy and the consequences that can result.
The queen in that story is actually Snow White’s mother, and she illustrates the extreme lengths narcissists are willing to take when their jealousy is triggered. Even though the narcissist in your life might not give you a poison apple, if you’re their scapegoat, you can expect to be blamed and shamed for every little thing that goes wrong.
The narcissist wants to discredit the scapegoat in the eyes of anyone who might listen to them. They want to portray them as incompetent by blaming them for mistakes the narcissist has made. In the narcissist’s mind, this equates to demonstrating their superiority.
It’s also not uncommon for the narcissist to present themselves as a victim of the scapegoat. The scapegoat is reduced to little more than an obstinate child or a disgruntled employee, while the narcissist is the hero.
How Does the Narcissist Treat the Scapegoat?
Narcissists are filled with negative emotions, and they have a tendency to project those onto the victims of their abusive behavior. This is why they need a scapegoat, as you can see in the video below. The scapegoat bears the brunt of their anger and projected negativity.
Narcissists also have higher expectations for scapegoats than they do for other victims. They expect them to behave in very narrowly defined ways. It’s a setup for failure. As you can imagine, the narcissist treats the scapegoat in terrible ways.
|Examples of Scapegoating Behaviors|
The narcissist is also often rageful toward the scapegoat in an effort to make them reluctant to bring up any truths they may want to tell. The narcissist also uses this tactic to distract the scapegoat from pursuing any other so-called truths.
As you can imagine, the narcissist can be extreme in the ways they emotionally abuse the scapegoat, and they sometimes become physically abusive as well.
How Does Narcissistic Abuse Affect the Scapegoat?
The constant abuse heaped on a scapegoat by a narcissist takes a heavy toll. It’s not at all uncommon for scapegoats to experience lifelong problems as a result of the abuse they have suffered.
“Evil originates not in the absence of guilt; but in our effort to escape it.”
― Shannon L. Alder, Therapist, Author, and Life Coach
There are several ways this type of treatment affects them. Here are some of the more common ones.
Scapegoats often feel as though they can do nothing right. They feel they are not enough because that’s the message they have received from their narcissistic abuser.
Because of the narcissist’s efforts to constantly blame and shame them, the scapegoat does typically internalize that shame. They begin to see themselves as being at fault and flawed.
That can lead to low self-esteem and a whole host of other problems related to low self-esteem. They may suffer from depression and chronic anxiety. They also tend to constantly look for approval from the people around them.
Failure to Launch
They are hesitant to do anything without being certain that others approve of what they are planning. This can easily result in a kind of stagnation. They can’t grow beyond a certain point because they are effectively paralyzed. They can’t make decisions on their own.
They may stall out professionally as well. They internalize the negative things the narcissist has told them. They come to believe they are not enough – not talented enough, not good enough, not creative enough, and not kind enough.
Failure to Develop Secure Relationships
If the scapegoating occurs in childhood, the child develops unhealthy coping mechanisms, and they carry those behaviors into their adult relationships. They frequently seek out similar abusers as romantic partners.
It’s what feels familiar and safe to them because that’s all they knew growing up. So they seek out those same kinds of abusive partners.
Substance Abuse and Other Addictions
Scapegoats often don’t realize the devastating effects this abuse has had on them. They don’t know why they feel that way; they only know they do. They want to numb the feelings of inadequacy they’re experiencing.
They often turn to drugs and alcohol to try and escape the pain they feel. They don’t have healthy coping mechanisms, so this is the best thing they can come up with to feel better.
How is the Scapegoat Different from the Golden Child?
Narcissistic abusers don’t just choose a scapegoat; they also choose a golden child. This child is lavished with loving attention, while the scapegoat is shunned and shamed. Here is a side-by-side comparison of how they are both treated:
At first glance, it seems as if the golden child has it so much better than the scapegoat. Unfortunately, the golden child often suffers more, particularly in the long run.
While the scapegoat takes the brunt of the narcissist’s abusive behaviors, they can develop a tough skin. Of course, the abuse they suffer can have a dramatic effect on their self-esteem, but they are sometimes able to develop a resilience that makes them better suited to meet life’s challenges as they arise.
The golden child, on the other hand, usually doesn’t develop a healthy sense of self. They are at higher risk of becoming a narcissist themselves. Because they are not allowed to do anything for themselves, the golden child comes to believe they can’t do anything.
They also have no ability to control anything in their own life. The narcissist hovers over them and controls everything they do. They can’t make choices for themselves because the narcissist wants those choices to reflect well on them as a parent.
While the narcissist doesn’t pay much attention to the needs of the scapegoat, that child learns how to take care of themselves. That’s something the golden child is denied, and it leaves them vulnerable to manipulation and control for the rest of their life.
Why Does the Narcissist Fear the Scapegoat?
The scapegoat is a truth-teller who represents a constant threat to the narcissist’s true self. What’s more, given the rebellious nature of the scapegoat, the narcissist doesn’t feel they can control them as easily.
Narcissists fear what they cannot control, and if they cannot control the scapegoat, they often take other, more drastic actions to manipulate them. The scapegoat is also a constant reminder of the narcissist’s own vulnerability.
Though the scapegoat may not do anything consciously to expose the narcissist’s vulnerability, their characteristics or behaviors serve to do that without them having to do anything. The narcissist sees a younger, more beautiful daughter, for example, and instead of being proud, as a healthy parent would be, they are reminded that they are aging and losing their beauty.
The narcissistic father sees a younger, stronger son, and he is reminded that he is getting ever older and weaker. Thus, the scapegoat’s mere existence exposes the narcissist’s vulnerability in the narcissist’s mind.
Narcissists are already filled with the constant fear of exposure, and the presence of someone who seems to be threatening that very thing triggers their anger. That person becomes a target for the narcissist to project all of their own self-doubts, fears, and perceived flaws onto to help make them feel more secure.
As a scapegoat child grows up and becomes more rebellious, they may actively threaten or seek ways to expose the narcissist’s abuse. This only heightens the fear the narcissist feels.
If the scapegoat is an employee of the narcissist, they may threaten to report the narcissist to the HR department as they grow weary of the constant abuse.
Seeing them as a threat, the narcissist, with their binary thinking, places the scapegoat firmly in the ‘enemy’ category. They see them as someone they need to destroy.
What Happens When the Scapegoat Stands Up to the Narcissist?
When the scapegoat pushes back, the narcissist initially goes on the attack. This is a typical response, as explained in this video.
That can happen in several ways. The narcissist might become even more rigid in their demands.
If the relationship is one between a child and a parent, the narcissistic parent may effectively imprison the child. They may prevent them from seeing their friends and talking to other people in an effort to exercise maximum control.
The narcissist will also increase their efforts to devalue the scapegoat. They may smear them among other family members and use triangulation to destroy the scapegoat’s relationships with friends, siblings, and their other parent.
If all that fails and the narcissist feels trapped, it is possible they could discard the scapegoat. They may order a child out of the house or fire an employee. Some narcissists have even abandoned their entire family when they feel that exposure of their true self is imminent.
If nothing else, it creates a chaotic, dramatic response that is disproportionate to the offense. While it’s important to understand what might happen, it’s also important to know that standing up for your own inherent value is something that the scapegoat must do to heal the trauma they’ve suffered.
It won’t be easy to stand up to the narcissist, however. It never is, but it’s necessary to respect your own value enough to stand up for what you know is true. Most scapegoats have the ability to do that, but they often don’t feel like they do.
Their own insecurities, which have been seeded by narcissistic abuse, prevent them from believing that doing something about the abuse will ever work in their favor. Trust me, though, it will in the long run.
What Happens When the Scapegoat Leaves the Family?
Often the tension in the family increases if the scapegoat leaves. The narcissist has no one to blame, after all, and they will struggle to find an outlet for their own insecurities.
They may find someone else in the family to blame, and they may start with the golden child. But, more commonly, the narcissist just continues to blame the scapegoat in absentia, as it were. They become the lost child, and the narcissist may insist that they are no longer part of the family.
The narcissist works hard to trace any problem that develops after the scapegoat leaves back to something they did before they left. If the narcissist decompensates and loses their job, for example, that is the scapegoat’s fault for doing something that made them lose focus.
If marital problems result from the fractured family dynamic, the scapegoat is to blame for causing so much stress. Even something as simple as a flat tire can be traced back to some way in which the scapegoat prevented the proper maintenance of the car.
None of this is rational, of course, but the narcissist’s fears are not logical. Their worldview is so skewed that they can’t be rational when they are triggered. Anything that results when they’re in that state of mind is just one more thing to blame the scapegoat for causing.
Should a Scapegoat Child Go No Contact?
The decision to go no contact with a narcissistic abuser depends on the type of relationship the scapegoat has with them. It’s something the scapegoat has to carefully consider, given the response from the narcissist.
“Since narcissists deep down feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world, they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault.”
― M. Scott Peck, Psychiatrist and Author
Interestingly, the narcissist at first typically reacts by trying to suck you back into the drama. This is known as hoovering, and they will turn on the charm to get you back into the fold.
When hoovering a scapegoat child, the narcissist will often employ gaslighting. They will claim that they never did or said what the child remembers, or they may insist the child is too sensitive.
Above all, they will insist that they love them, and to get them back, they might promise to change. That’s unlikely to happen, however, no matter what they promise.
Getting you back is all about power and control. They don’t want you back because they have suddenly realized just how much they love you; they want you back because they want to prove to everyone they can get you back.
Moreover, they are not willing to look inward and make any serious changes. Once you’re back, the scapegoating will likely start all over again.
How Will Other Family Members React to No Contact from the Scapegoat?
Initially, other family members will likely feel like everything around the home has become almost too quiet. Of course, the narcissist is likely smearing the scapegoat child and spinning the story to make themselves out as the victim.
Other family members are unlikely to dispute this account of things even though they know it’s not true. They don’t want to become the scapegoat themselves, so they stay quiet to ‘keep the peace.’
Interestingly, the golden child may be the one who feels the absence of the scapegoat most acutely. They may begin to act up. They may feel a sense of resentment that the scapegoat has escaped the narcissist’s grip. The narcissist often puts more pressure on the golden child in the absence of the scapegoat.
With the chaos that ensues after a scapegoat leaves, it’s not uncommon for the family to split apart. The narcissist’s partner may blame the narcissist for what happened, and they may decide they’ve had enough. In short, the loss of the scapegoat plunges the family into chaos, and they may never fully recover.
Despite all of that, freeing yourself from this abuse could be the healthiest thing you do for yourself and your family. If they do break away from the narcissist, their lives will most definitely improve.
Narcissists have no remorse for the abuse they heap on the scapegoat. This is a person who seems to trigger all of the narcissist’s fears, and they come to see them as an enemy that must be destroyed. They attack them relentlessly as a way to metaphorically battle their worst demons.
Unfortunately, however, they don’t benefit from that, and of course, neither does the scapegoat. The scapegoat can be damaged for the rest of their lives as a result of the emotional wounds and resultant triggers that form because of the abuse.
Healing can be a long and sometimes painful process, but it’s well worth it. One of the first things that can help is to identify and heal those emotional triggers and their underlying wounds. I have created a free 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help you do just that.
This handy guide is designed to guide you, step-by-step, through the process of identifying, defusing, and healing emotional wounds and their triggers. That can stop the narcissist in their tracks. If you would like a copy of this guide, just click here, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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